AWS Public Sector Blog

LiDAR Data for Washington DC is Available as an AWS Public Dataset

LiDAR point cloud data for Washington, DC, is available for anyone to use on Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3). This dataset, managed by the District of Columbia’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO), with the direction of OCTO’s Geographic Information System (GIS) program, contains tiled point cloud data for the entire District along with associated metadata.

LiDAR is a remote sensing method that emits hundreds of thousands of near-infrared light pulses each second to measure distances to the Earth. These light pulses generate precise, 3D information about the shape of the Earth and its surface characteristics. LiDAR is popularly used to make high-resolution maps and digital elevation models, with applications in geodesy, archaeology, geography, geology, seismology, and forestry.

LiDAR data supports the development of new applications for city planning, building restoration, law enforcement and crime prevention, traffic and parking management, autonomous vehicles, and more.

DC OCTO and AWS have made LiDAR data publicly available as an AWS Public Dataset as part of the Smarter DC initiative. The initiative encourages innovation and development of smart city technologies that improve the quality of life for residents and visitors.

Accessing DC LiDAR Data on AWS

DC’s OCTO’s mission is to improve the quality and lower the cost of services provided by the DC government, through the District’s collective investment and effective application of data and systems. They acquired new LiDAR data in spring 2015 to establish a more thorough and better quality core LiDAR dataset.

“Working with AWS to make DC LiDAR data openly available enables us to provide city data as part of the Smarter DC initiative, to encourage more innovation and development of new smart city applications. The use of LiDAR data in applications will elevate DC’s tech scene and foster more technical growth and solutions to city challenges. It also makes DC Government more efficient in the way it operates, plans, and spends taxpayer funds,” said Archana Vemulapalli, DC Chief Technology Officer.

For example, LiDAR Data supports urban planning projects and management of city assets resulting in more accurate modeling of city features, such as watersheds and flood plains, to more efficiently plan buildings and roadways to improve storm water management and transportation in the city. Also, LiDAR models can help monitor air pollution by detecting particle levels of carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, methane, and even light pollution, which can be used to reduce pollutant concentration in certain areas.

The LiDAR data products are suitable for 1 foot (or less) contour generation.  This project consists of deliverables in accordance with USGS v1.2 specifications and meets or exceeds the level of quality for QL1 (8 points per meter).

Examples of how to access the files via the AWS CLI can be seen here. And visit the Open Data DC catalog as a source for additional DC government data.

If you would like to show us what you can do with DC LiDAR data or would like to receive updates on the project, please reach out to us here. If you have a research project that could take advantage of DC LiDAR data on AWS, you can apply for AWS Cloud Credits for Research.

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AWS Public Sector Blog Team

AWS Public Sector Blog Team

The Amazon Web Services (AWS) Public Sector Blog team writes for the government, education, and nonprofit sector around the globe. Learn more about AWS for the public sector by visiting our website (, or following us on Twitter (@AWS_gov, @AWS_edu, and @AWS_Nonprofits).